19/3/11 – Mine for 24 hours – the 5,900-franc ski

Benedict Germanier from Zai, with Colin Jackson. Picture by Martin Bond

During yesterday’s City Ski Championships dual giant slalom I ducked into the woods near the start to spend a penny and my binding broke as I was climbing into a hole. I needed replacements, swiftly, for my trusted Stoecklis, as our Ski Club of GB team had a chance to get to the next round in the mixed competition. We had drawn against a fancied team that included ex-GB racer Laura Westmacott and were poised to do a re-run.

As befits a ski event for high-end folk, one of the event’s sponsors is a high-end producer of handmade skis. Zai, which means toughness in Romansch, makes 1,000 pairs a year at its factory in Disentis, using materials such as cedar wood, stainless steel (for the edges) and a base material used on World Cup race skis. They claim their skis – which start at 3,500 francs – lose only two per cent of performance over 1,000 hours of use compared to the standard wear rate (they say) of 80 per cent over 100 hours. City Ski competitors were able to test-run a slinky collection of Zai skis throughout the weekend – and I gather a few already own a pair.

As my binding refused to respond to the efforts of pisteurs to mend it, Benedict Germanier, Zai’s CEO, came to the rescue. He brought me a 174cm Spada Buola (spada means sword) that contains granite and rubber. Retail price: 5,900 francs. Have a look here: http://www.zai.ch/en/products/ski/spada/blau.html

Off we went on the re-run – but I was spared going flat out because our rivals’ first skier crashed, allowing team Ski Club to finish at our leisure. The next round we won by a couple of gates. Our luck ran out in the final: we were up against First Energy, fielding among its two girls Emily Sarsfield, Britain’s star ski crosser. We couldn’t catch them and lost by a gate or two.

But I was relishing the Zais – they felt precise, speedy, solid and manoeuvrable. I arranged with Benedict to keep hold of them overnight and race on them in today’s individual giant slalom. We had just one run, on a shortened course, as it had snowed nearly 10cm and organisers were fretting that conditions might be dangerous if people went wide into the deep stuff (I didn’t really get this until I saw a few racers making multiple extra turns between gates and taking some interesting routes down).

Our Ski Club team (l-r): me, Kate Mullins, Vanessa Fisher and Toby Heelis

By the time I raced at number 66 the sun was out and I was expecting decent ruts and a bumpy ride. Surprisingly, the course was smooth … or was it the skis? I came in at 37 seconds – a few hundredths behind the winning non-FIS girl, two seconds behind the fastest FIS girls and the male non-FIS winner Filippo (see previous post – my prediction was right), five behind Graham Bell and seven behind overall winner Mikey Colyer (an Accenture analyst and only 21). You can see full results here: City Ski results

In the afternoon I tried the skis in powder, slush and soft moguls. Although this model is more of a piste ski, they sliced smoothly through everything. As I had handed them back to the Zai guys, should I have asked whether they might cut me a deal on ex-test skis? Better not: it’s easy to get carried away when surrounded by these financial folk…

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Filed under Gear, Italy, Off-piste, Racing, Switzerland

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